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Unilever threatens to pull ads from online platforms

| Marketing and Promotions

Unilever has threatened to pull its advertising from online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google unless they tackle content which “creates division in society and promotes anger and hate”.

Speaking yesterday at the annual Interactive Advertising Bureau conference in California, the group’s Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed suggested consumer trust in social media is now at a new low, referencing fake news, racism, sexism, extremist material, and toxic content directed at children.

“As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online,” he said.

“We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain – one that delivers over a quarter of our advertising to our consumers – which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency.”

Weed outlined four pledges that Unilever will adhere to when advertising online:

Not invest in platforms that do not protect children or create division in society

Only invest in platforms that make a positive contribution to society

Tackle gender stereotypes in advertising

Only partner with companies creating a responsible digital infrastructure

According to research firm Pivotal, Facebook and Google accounted for 73% of all digital advertising in the US in 2017, with the figure at around 60% in the UK.  Meanwhile, Unilever is the world’s second biggest marketing spender, after P&G, and spent £6.8bn last year advertising its brands.

Weed said online platforms needed to take action to clean up the internet: “It is in the digital media industry’s interest to listen and act on this. Before viewers stop viewing, advertisers stop advertising and publishers stop publishing.”

Experts in digital media say that more buyers of advertising will have to join Unilever to spur change.  “The advertising ecosystem contains so many players, so for Facebook and Google to see any dent in the profits they make, there will need to be many companies that not only put their hat in the ring, but also follow through on these threats,” Sam Barker, a senior analyst at Juniper Research told the BBC.

Last year, P&G issued a similar warning before cutting $100m of digital ad spend, claiming it didn’t have a negative impact on sales.

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